Monthly Archives: September 2011

A Match Made

I did something daring.  Something that has raised a few eyebrows and evoked quizzical thoughts.  I mixed cayenne and chocolate together.  I took a deep breath and put my faith in Cooking Light Magazine.  I even used more than 1/8 tsp of cayenne.  I’ve always been kind of a skeptic about chocolate and heat and still generally prefer my chocolate sans spice.  Unless it’s a Mexican Chocolate Cream Pie, because that friends is different.  Different in the very best of ways.

This risky behavior of mine also prodded me to make a few tweaks to the recipe.  Since I am still a baker, true to form and the words “frozen reduced calorie whipped cream” makes me shudder, I kinda took the “light” part out.  Well not entirely.  I didn’t add butter or any more egg yolks or chocolate and I used a combination of whole milk and 1%.  That’s a fair compromise right?

I figured I was sacrificing enough calories elsewhere, so I could afford to make some real whipped cream.  Also, I have always detested graham cracker crust.  (Sorry graham cracker crust fans)!  It’s just that I’ve always found it to be boring, uninspiring and overrated and far too many pie, bar and cheesecake recipes have graham cracker crusts!  I’ve just never understood that.  Even a simple shortbread press-in crust is so much more interesting!  Whenever my mom made cheesecake, she’d always make the crust using Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies, which yield a richer, crunchier, sturdier crust than graham crackers.  Following suit, I too made my cheesecake crusts the same way, adding some toasted pecan pieces and a little butter.  You should try it.  It’s time for the Grahams to retire.

So when I first made this pie about a month ago, I basically followed Cooking Light’s crust recipe to a T, but subbing Oreos for graham crackers.  (I wanted to use Nabisco chocolate wafers but apparently they don’t exist in Greensboro, or at least I’ve never been able to find them).  So I just scrape the icing off the Oreos before I make the crust (and I don’t eat it either!).

That pie crust was sugary and crumbly and while I did like it, I decided to try something different this time.  Last night I got out my tart pans and slightly adapted a chocolate tart dough recipe (if you could even call it a dough).  It’s low-maintenance, requires no rolling or several hours of chilling and it came out great except I could have baked it a little longer.  This crust was thicker, with a stronger chocolate flavor and was like a chewy chocolate cookie (I’m sure it’d be less chewy and more crispy had I baked it a few minutes longer).  I also liked trying the recipe as a tart rather than a pie, just for something new and tarts are always so pretty and look so impressive!  It was really a pie just pretending to be a tart.  Whatever your fancy, either one would suffice just fine.

This pie is lusciously smooth and surprisingly rich for not having any butter in it or hardly any eggs.  Cooking Light has tried to fool your brain, making you think you’re eating something highly caloric and decadent but you’re not!  Well, you kind of are if you eat my version, but not totally!  Trust me on the crust and the whipped cream.  Like I said, it’s a compromise.

The spice brings just enough of a kick for you to know the cayenne is there and it provides a nice contrast against the sweet chocolate pudding like filling.  The cinnamon accentuates the cayenne and is a nice compliment to the chocolate, adding more warmth.  I am definitely a fan of pairing chocolate and cinnamon together and this recipe is reason enough.  The two spices gives the pie some delicious  intrigue.   If this pie were a movie genre it’d be a black & white film noir.  Veronica Lake and Humphrey Bogart would probably star in it.   Bogie would wink and say in his effortlessly cool voice, “here’s to looking at you pie.”

Mexican Chocolate Cream Pie (adapted from Cooking Light and Epicurious).

Crumbly Pie Crust:

  • 1 1/3 cups chocolate Nabisco Famous Wafers (or Oreos with the icing scraped out & discarded)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons egg white
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted


 Tart Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon (generous) cinnamon
  • 1 stick chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ice water
  • Filling:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened dark cocoa
  • 1/4 (heaping) teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 (heaping) teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 3/4 cups milk (instead of 2 % I prefer 1 cup whole milk and 3/4 cup 1% milk)
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate (I use Ghiradelli Bittersweet), chopped
  • 1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  • 2. For a crumbly crust, combine 10 Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers or Oreos, 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a bowl, stirring well. Stir in egg white and butter. Press crumb mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 9 minutes or until lightly toasted; cool completely on a wire rack.
  •  For a thicker, more chewy cookie-like kind of crust, for a tart, spray 11-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom with nonstick spray.  ( didn’t have a tart pan this big, so I used a smaller one plus 2 baby ones).   Blend flour, sugar, cocoa, and salt in processor 5 seconds. Add butter and blend until moist sandy texture forms. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons ice water and blend until dough comes together. Press dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of prepared pan. Chill crust 30 minutes.  Bake at 375 for about 15 minutes; cool completely on wire rack.
  • 3. To prepare filling, combine 1/2 cup sugar and the next 7 ingredients (through egg yolk) in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Place the milk in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until milk reaches 180° or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). Gradually add hot milk to egg mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Return milk mixture to pan; cook over medium heat 10 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; stir until smooth.
  • 4. Place pan in a large ice-filled bowl for 10 minutes or until mixture cools, stirring occasionally. Spoon filling into crust, and cover surface of filling with plastic wrap. Chill for 1-3 hours or until set.  Top with whipped cream (1 cup heavy cream + 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 Tablespoon powdered sugar).  You could garnish with a dusting of cinnamon and/or some chocolate shavings.

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Where to Begin

I have had a full summer.  Full of travel and airports and trains, packing and unpacking, I’ve practically become a regular.  It’s funny though, airports used to be places I loved.  They represented the excitement of putting your daily life on hold to venture off to something and somewhere new and interesting.  But as I get older and travel more and more, I’ve become more attuned to the security hassle, costly baggage check, convoluted terminal hunt, flight delay, middle seat, screaming children one is forced to deal with in airports and on airplanes.  Being more attuned makes for annoyance in this case, and the air travel process becomes monotonous.  I still love the travel part tremendously, just not the means it takes to get there.  I’m craving a road trip.

But summer for me has also meant buttery corn on the cob, so sweet it could give you a cavity, peaches (my starring fruit of summer, that I could never tire of) and baby herirloom tomatoes that explode with juicy color when you bite into them.  I’ve been to Seattle, Portland, Freeport and Bar Harbor, Maine, Miami, Europe and to Bar Harbor again.  My latest trip – a brief stint in Bar Harbor for an extended weekend was a little bittersweet for me because I was happy to be there but sad to know that it was the last destination on my list of summer travels.

I also witnessed the rapid unraveling of a bakery I loved greatly.  I sold the last few loaves of bread and repeatedly told customers the news with a heavy heart on our last day.  Watching something once so successful cease to exist is a hard thing to do, especially when it means so much to people.  It truly was an important, affectionately revered part of the community and it was heartbreaking to see it fail and for reasons that could have been prevented.  I’ll dearly miss the majority of the Saturday morning “regulars,” who became an extension of family for me and hope I’ll still get to see some of them around.

But now the weather has shifted even if just for a few days and fall is boldly nudging this unforgivably hot summer away.  Apparently next week will stubbornly climb back into the 80s but we’re oh so close.  It’s my favorite time of year.  I’m always at my most nostalgic and I get in touch with my inner bear, as there is something so comforting about hunkering down for awhile.  I love how the air smells distinguishably different, the leaves turning colors, the slow-cooked meals that are the pure embodiment of fall and sock weather.  Sock weather makes me so very happy.

I also love fall fashion.  Toggle coats, tights and boots, scarves and cardigans – over-sized electric pumpkin colored vintage grandpa sweaters to be exact!  The boyfriend may protest that one but I quite like it.

And you know how when one season ends and another begins, you retire the past season’s clothes (for the most part)?  Well I love how those clothes smell.  They’ve been patiently waiting on closet shelves and in dresser drawers, to be worn again and they smell of faded laundry detergent and memories.

Last night we curled up in our socks and sweaters and roasted a whole chicken.  I made Sara Foster’s Rosemary Caramelized Parsnips, which definitively means it is now fall.  The aromas of piney rosemary, apple and thyme permeated the house.  I’ve made those parsnip fries so many times over the last few years and must say they are my favorite thing to make during the fall and if I could nominate a single recipe to symbolize the season, rosemary caramelized parsnips would be it.  I’m also welcoming the chance to use rosemary again in my cooking, since I didn’t touch it at all over the summer.  I’ve always associated it with cooler weather and even though my trailing rosemary plant has crept in length, begging to be used, I’ve ignored it.  But now, it is certainly rosemary and sock season.

So here is what I’ve been listening to lately (a lot of covers):

  • Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow) – Bon Iver
  • Come Talk to Me – Bon Iver
  • Dance Me to the End of Love – The Civil Wars
  • Stardust – Hoagy Carmichael
  • Southern Pacifica – Josh Ritter
  • Almanac – The Acorn
  • I Won’t Back Down – Dawn Landes
  • In a Manner of Speaking – Nouvelle Vague
  • Used to Be – Henry Wolfe
  • The Joy the Baker Podcast (which is addicting because it’s sometimes awkward, totally goofy girl talk, it makes me laugh and it reminds me of two best friends just goofing around).  It’s kind of like comfort food for my ears.

This video: 

I’ve been obsessed with this movie which I had the pleasure of seeing with my good friend Molly.  (Thank you Philly for giving me Molly back, even if just for a few months)!  Brit Marling is truly gorgeous and ridiculously talented.  She radiates and you don’t think for a second she’s acting, she makes it look effortless.  For me, that’s the mark of a real actor.  She’s the real deal and I have a major girl crush on her.  Another Earth treads the line between reality and scifi but it’s artfully done in such a naked, humble way that makes it totally realistic.  It’s not so much about the sci-fi elements but rather the valid question of a duplicate earth and cosmic symmetry and forces the question: what would you do if you were forced to really confront yourself?   I’m fascinated by its concept and it’s one of those few movies that really lingers in your psyche long after you’ve seen it.  Also, I admire the fact that the heroine is broken yet strong, isn’t dolled up or pining over a man.  It’s refreshing.  Like Bridesmaids.

This is what I’ve been watching, like a true addict, as virtually every character on it is so loveable (except Mark…he’s boring), and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and comfortable.  Something had to fill the Dexter and Modern Family void.  It’s funny because I had a preconceived notion about this show and never thought I would give it a chance.  I thought it would be shallow – another show about nothing, trying to mimic The Office.  I was wrong.  Book by its cover and all.  I particularly love Ron Swanson, Tom, April and of course Leslie.  Also, I have a crush on Andy (shhhh, don’t tell my boyfriend)!   It’s the perfect balance of satirical, dork humor and heart.  It’s good laughter people.

I have lot’s to catch up on my friends.  I’ve got exciting European tales and a Miami culinary tour post to write.  For now though, because first thing’s first, here’s what I have been creating in my kitchen these last few months…

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